UK Nuclear Strategy In Doubt As ‘Very Serious’ Faults Found In French Plant

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Originally published on RenewEconomy
by Sophie Vorrath

Further doubt has been cast over the future of three nuclear reactors under development in the UK, after the discovery of a a potentially catastrophic mistake in the construction of an identical power plant in France.

French regulators have been informed of “manufacturing anomalies” in components “particularly important for safety” at the Flamanville 3 power plant, in Normandy – a prototype of France’s new generation of European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), touted as a safer and more efficient nuclear technology.

“It is a serious fault, even a very serious fault, because it involves a crucial part of the nuclear reactor,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of France’s nuclear safety inspectorate.

The anomalies have prompted a second investigation into the quality of the steel used to make a 50ft-high safety casing, or “pressure vessel”, which encloses the groundbreaking new reactor at Flamanville.

In a joint statement, French multinationls Areva and EDF said new tests were under way on the “reactor vessel head and bottom”.

The companies said this followed initial tests which had shown “greater than average carbon content” – something French regulators said caused “lower than expected mechanical toughness” in the steel.

“Teams are working to perform the additional tests as soon as possible, following approval by the French Nuclear Safety Authority on the test conditions, and to provide the safety authority with all the necessary information to demonstrate the safety and quality of the corresponding equipment,” the statement said.

Whatever the outcome, it’s not good news for UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s “keep the lights on” energy strategy, a large part of which has been the development of two EPR nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset and another, later, in Suffolk.

7-nuclear-afp-300x225The Independent reports that if the steel does prove to be defective, the completion of the prototype UK plant – already behind schedule and nearly three times over budget – could be delayed for several years more.

One of the main concerns, reports the BBC, is that questions about safety will spook the Chinese state investors who were expected to cover part of the cost of the £14bn Hinkley project, intended to supply 6 per cent of Britain’s energy needs for 60 years.

“What foreign client would want to buy this reactor when France itself is not capable of completing its construction?” asked Greenpeace France’s Yannick Rousselet, in a statement describing the latest problems to beset the Normandy prototype as “the coup de grâce for the EPR idea.”

Sources in the French nuclear industry have told the newspaper Le Parisien that dismantling the faulty pressure vessel and ordering and manufacturing a new one could take several years.

“If the weakness of the steel is proved, I don’t hold out much hope for the survival of the EPR project,” a former senior nuclear safety official told the paper.

In the UK, it has taken the government months to negotiate a contract for EDF to supply electricity at a guaranteed price for 35 years.

The final decision on the British project is expected in the coming months but is also delayed by the current lack of a fully functioning government – something which could be exacerbated if talks on forming a government drag on after the election.

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18 thoughts on “UK Nuclear Strategy In Doubt As ‘Very Serious’ Faults Found In French Plant

  • that will be the major difference between nuclear and solar. when nuclear goes wrong people die, land is unusable and billions and many years are needed to clean up. when solar goes wrong you through away the solar panel and buy a new one.

    • …or better: you recycle the PV module.

    • Finland nuclear project a disaster, overtime, overbudget,
      Flamanville overtime overbudget
      Hinckley overtime overbudget
      nothing is working on new commissioned nukes

      decommission even a bigger problem
      Sellafield nuclear decommission did cost taxpayer 100 billion
      added every year 2 billion tax money.
      find the facts on the web.

      • It’s amazing isn’t it. How much solar can 100 billion actually buy? How many homes / car parks / warehouses / supermarkets / offices can be covered in roof top solar with that money? I know you need baseline load etc but it really frustrates how short sighted governments can be.

        • Sellafield was a bomb making plant, but decomissioning normal nuclear plants doesn’t come cheap, even if it is a lot less than 100 billion pounds.

          • Yeah I know.. It’s the life-cycle costs of a nuclear plant that are astronomical. Then they are so difficult to dismantle – they’ve been taking apart Sellafield ever since I can remember.

          • If I was the UK government I’d be tempted to just wall it off and designate it a mutant hunting reserve.

          • A better idea would be to wait until the Scots get their independence and make sure the new English borders are just south of the place;)

          • It’s been a number of things, but the one thing it has consistently been,is an economic disaster, nobody has any real idea of how much it’s going to cost to decommission it and the true cost, it’s something successive governments have been kicking down the road for decades.
            And living 60 miles downwind of it is a nagging worry.

    • Can’t recall where I’ve seen this, but I like it:

      A solar spill is simply called a nice day.

  • Could the 4 plants under construction in the US, Vogtle and Summers, based on this design have the same issue?

    • The US reactors are based on the Westinghouse (now Toshiba) AP1000 design, also used in China. Flamanville and Hinkley C are the European (basically French) EPR design. The difference seems to be that most AP1000s run over budget and schedule, while all EPRs do, and more so. This news looks like a death sentence for the struggling EPR.

      Incidentally, real construction has not started at Hinkley – just some site preparation. It will IMHO stay that way. The latest renewables auction came as a pleasant surprise to DECC; price reduction is going faster than they expected. Ergo, the economics of Hinkley look ever worse. The Austrian lawsuit in the ECJ provides a splendid excuse for stalling.

      • I really hope your right, the decision to commission Hinkley was made in panic owing to the doomongers calls about the lights going out, cancel it (and HS2) and invest the money in a renewable future for the UK.

      • Wattsbar 2? Yeah that might be added to the delayed and over budget list. Isn’t that the one that was originally delayed – in 1988!

  • I consider that good news for the planet. Delayed or stopped construction of nuclear power.

  • The most costly (per MW) coal in US is just up river from Cincinnati Ohio (in Moscow). It was to be a Nuke, but after finding that the weld x-rays were faked (along with other documentation) and then two inspectors disappeared, they switch to coal. Of course a lot of money was already spent on things that couldn’t be used. But no big deal as long you produce power somehow at the same plant, Ohio PUC lets you pass all construction costs on to the end user.

  • The estimated completion time of the French Flamanville plant has been put back a year and is now expected to start in 2017. Even with all the expense that has been put into the plant already, I still wonder if, once all the costs are included, it might be cheaper to abandon the plant given the current low and decreasing cost of renewables. At the moment the building could be used for something. But one they start putting nuclear materials into it then no one will want to touch it with a 10 foot lead pole.

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